Council Takes On Unions, University

Tuesday June 01, 2004

Two mammoth battles highlight tonight’s (Tuesday, June 2) City Council meeting.  

In closed session, the city will continue to try to squeeze concessions out of its unions to help balance a $10 million budget shortfall. Later, city staff will present an overview of its response to UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan, which the city fears could cost it millions in additional services it provides for the university. 

In the never ending battle with UC over tax-and-services issues, the city has gotten some legislative help. Last week, by a vote of 59-12, the State Assembly passed Assemblymember Loni Hancock’s (D-Berkeley) AB 2902 legislation to require fair compensation to cities from public agencies like UC Berkeley. The bill now goes to the State Senate for consideration. 

In cases where UC expansion and development has environmental impacts, Hancock’s bill would prevent UC from saddling the city with the costs of mitigating the impacts without holding a public hearing and entering into “good faith” negotiations. 

To squeeze more money out of the university, Berkeley is scheduled to release June 14 the draft of a $50,000 report it commissioned to determine the true costs UC places on city services. Assistant City Manager Arrietta Chakos wouldn’t divulge the report’s contents, but said the tally was in the millions. UC currently pays the city approximately $500,000 to offset city expenses for sewers, public safety and other services. 

At tonight’s council meeting, Chakos will present an overview of the city’s response to the university’s Long Range Development Plan. Among the criticisms: that the plan’s Draft Environmental Impact Report fails to properly mitigate the impact of 2,500 new parking spaces near the main campus and 100 new housing units on its Hill Campus, and that the plan underestimates the impact of its transportation policy and relies on “continuing best practices” that don’t comply with state environmental law. 

Also at tonight’s meeting, a group of Berkeley residents will give a presentation highlighting what the UC plan, if implemented, would mean for different neighborhoods. 

On the labor front, time is running out for a deal with city unions. After the unions rebuffed a city demand for a three percent salary giveback, the city is now asking them to defer three percent of their cost of living increase—about $1.2 million—for the coming year.  

The proposal is essentially a one-year fix. For the following year, city workers would be slated to receive their accumulated cost of living increases over the past two years. Since the city would still be facing a budget deficit for fiscal year 2006, it’s likely the two sides would have to negotiate a second deal the following year. 

Should the unions refuse, the city is threatening to raise the $1.2 million by closing essential services one day a month.  

With the city required to finalize its budget later this month and a 30-day notice mandated before the city can institute its first shutdown, tentatively scheduled for the first week of July, something has to give soon. 

So far it hasn’t been the unions. 

“No one has agreed to change the overall salary structure,” said Eric Landes-Brenman, of the Public Employees Union Local One. 

Rich Chan, shop steward for the International Brotherhood of Engineering Workers Local 1245 said the city has rebuffed his union’s compromise proposals—including voluntary time off—which Chan says is in violation of the labor agreement’s “meet and confer process.” “Right now they’re only discussing mandatory time off and a three percent salary reduction for this year,” he said. 

Most unions potentially have something to gain from the three percent deferral. The city has hinted that the concession could prevent anticipated layoffs this year. In addition, since essential services like police and fire would have to work in the event of monthly closures, mandatory time off would cost non-essential employees 4.67 percent of their salaries to make up the difference. 

“The city’s proposal is a gruesome treatment of employees,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “Police and fire have by far the most generous contracts and they’re exempt.” 

On the other side of the budget balancing equation, the council will receive ballot language for four tax measures totaling $8 million dollars. The proposals include $1.2 million for paramedic services, $1.9 million for the public library, $2.2 million for youth services, and a $2.7 million Utility Users Tax that would go into the general fund. 

The city dumped a $1.2 million clean water tax after councilmembers didn’t show much support for it at last week’s meeting.